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1/28/2015
10:15 AM
Lysa Myers
Lysa Myers
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Small Changes Can Make A Big Difference In Tech Diversity

There's no doubt that many employers feel most comfortable hiring people like themselves. But in InfoSec, this approach can lead to stagnation.

Whenever the lack of diversity in tech is discussed, you can always count on it sparking a debate over whether it is due to a “pipeline” problem or a “culture” problem. In other words, are there too few “minorities” interested in studying tech, or are they being repelled for some reason?

If you ask me, that’s a fruitless discussion that can never be proven one way or another, and it’s time to look at things differently.

Albert Einstein is widely (and probably mistakenly) credited for saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If we view the diversity problem as an opportunity to experiment and collect data, perhaps we can make some significant progress. 

To make any progress, we need to first do things differently. But what things, specifically, do we need to change? There are scads of ways we can make changes to begin this experiment, but we need to start somewhere. For the purpose of this post, let’s start with hiring.

First thing’s first: When your company opens head count for a new position, how do you write the ad? There is a general consensus that how you word an ad matters in terms of who applies. Women and other minority groups, according to a recent study reported in Science Magazine, may avoid careers that seem to require “natural aptitude” rather than hard work and knowledge.

Likewise, they may avoid applying for jobs where they don’t appear to meet all the criteria, writes Tara Sophia Mohr in Harvard Business Review, especially when the requirements appear to be over-inflated or aspirational, rather than accurately describing what the position truly requires. You may also wish to experiment and record your results for future searches, as small tweaks in things like title wording, may bring surprising changes in those who apply.

Once you have written the job listing, where do you post it? If you’re using the same old job sites with the usual skewed demographics, you’ll invariably get more of the same. There are lots of national and local groups for women, for people of color and LGBT coders, such as Women Who Code, Code2040 and Queer Coders, where you can broaden your reach.

Reinventing the interview
Now that you’ve got a pool of qualified applicants, how do you whittle it down to the best fit for the position? Once again, you can experiment with doing things a new way. Certain types of interviews may narrow your list of candidates unnecessarily. For example, daylong interview marathons or weeklong “tryouts” may exclude otherwise excellent candidates if they’re not able to get away from existing commitments such as a job, school or childcare. Not only that, but such extensive interviews may bias your results towards extraverts, as introverts may find so much uninterrupted face-time incredibly taxing.

Large group interviews – especially informal ones such as in a noisy bar – may seem like a great way of expressing your fun and casual corporate culture, but they may exclude otherwise talented applicants with hearing or sensory integration issues, teetotalers, people of certain faiths or those who are introverted and do better in smaller groups.

Once you’ve decided on the format for your interview, you may need to change what you ask your candidates. Much as with the initial job listing, the questions you ask should directly address experience or mirror the true nature of the job. Avoid riddles or brainteasers, or inquiring about trivial aspects of technology. Let’s be honest: If some obscure piece of information is needed on a project, most of us will simply Google it or check reference materials.

There’s no doubt that employers feel most comfortable around people like themselves. But in InfoSec, this tactic can lead to stagnation within an organization. Hiring people with different perspectives can lead to wonderful innovation and, even the ability to reach a broader market for your products. You don’t have to overhaul your company to achieve this either. Small changes that bring new ideas and experiences will lead to greater workplace diversity, innovation, and, ultimately, broader success.

Lysa Myers began her tenure in malware research labs in the weeks before the Melissa virus outbreak in 1999. She has watched both the malware landscape and the security technologies used to prevent threats from growing and changing dramatically. Because keeping up with all ... View Full Bio
 

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Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2015 | 7:11:56 PM
Re: Would you, could you, in a bar? Would that not be but bizarre?
> Do companies really do that?

Given the reports out of Silicon Valley, I'm inclined to believe pretty much anything about workplace practices in that sector these days.
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
2/3/2015 | 8:51:17 AM
Re: Would you, could you, in a bar? Would that not be but bizarre?
I'm with you @Joe Stanganelli. A group interviews in a bar would make me order a tall one then high tail it out of the door as quickly as possible. Do companies really do that? 
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
2/2/2015 | 1:16:53 AM
Diversity is important -- and isn't.
Diversity in tech is good and important because it accounts for the fact that when it comes to important functions (such as cyber security), you have to draw deeply from the well of talent so you can get the broadest and best perspectives.

The folly of diversity, however, is that it seems to assume that women can't screw up as big as men can.  (Cases in point: Marissa Mayer, Ginni Rometty, etc.)

Hire the best, wherever the best can be found, and actively seek out the best while encouraging and mentoring those with potential and talent.

But after that, let's maybe shut up about it so we don't have to read articles about what dress Marissa Mayer wore to the earnings call.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
2/2/2015 | 1:12:41 AM
Would you, could you, in a bar? Would that not be but bizarre?
Large group interviews in a noisy bar?  Yuck!  (Speaking both as someone with hyperacusis and someone who just thinks that's tacky and dumb.)

There's a cafe I frequent in a particular office building, and there's this one sales company that commonly holds interviews in that cafe.  Like, several a day.  I feel like warning the poor interviewees to run far far away because obviously the company has extremely high turnover of its sales team.

Of course, if they have to hold their interviews in the cafe instead of in their office, that alone should signal trouble.

So too with the company that interviews in a crowded bar.  Seriously, man.  Professionalism, much?
Pragmatic_Security
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Pragmatic_Security,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/30/2015 | 12:35:26 PM
Causation...
Good article topic.  I think this points to a deeper, causative, deficiency regarding information security practice.

Anyone with experience working in an IT shop (put a pin in that one) knows that it is dominated by white guys, often fitting the stereotype of those with a penchant for online RPGs, graphic novels, and Mountain Dew.  The security analysts demanded by managers and above are often fitting of this archetype, because what do we need? Technologists... More technologists.

I know this is terribly "new school" of me, but why can't we foundationally build our information security programs with documentation, reference, and development opportunities for motivated, critical, abstract thinkers?  The talent pool is thinned because we limit ourselves to a specific, desired skill set.  Why?  Because security leadership hasn't taken the time to lay the 'unsexy' groundwork of a high-performing program: documentation and clear, defined processes.

If processes are not defined or teachable, the hiring pool becomes smaller and smaller, namely the same technologists who view collaborative communication as the arms race of who has the technical savvy to get their latest, unfunny technology joke (and if you don't get it, you're obviously not qualified to sit in the same room).

 I have a non-technical educational background (finance and economics), and I believe it's been instrumental and directly attributable to any success I've had in infosec practice.  If I can pull young talent in from diverse educational and demographic backgrounds and teach them how to apply them to the technological challenges found in information risk management, I've increased my prospective talent pool one hundred fold.

tl:dr, white guys aren't the only good security practitioners, we need to redefine our norms and structure our programs to accomodate diversity.

Now... If I only had the time to write these processes down and set up one-on-ones...
Lital Asher-Dotan
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Lital Asher-Dotan,
User Rank: Author
1/29/2015 | 10:09:52 AM
Excellent, very helpful article!
I work at Cybereason (www.cybereason.com), a cyber-security startup which as of day 1 decided to be proactive about gender diversity and actively seeks to have woman in all positions across the organization. We are very proud to have almost a half of our R&D and product development team composed of women developers. Your tips are helpful, as we strive to attract talented women. The company CEO is very proactive about gender diversity and speak freely about the need to have more women in security and in every managerial level of the organization. 
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